Earlier this year, Charles Siebert wrote a New York Times magazine story about the increased attention on animal cruelty in the United States. He cited a significant expansion of state animal-cruelty laws, investigative initiatives, and most importantly an overall appreciation for the links between animal cruelty and “non-animal” crimes “including illegal firearms possession, drug trafficking, gambling, spousal and child abuse, rape and homicide.” The story left me feeling that law enforcement would stop relegating crimes against pets to a lower priority—if only in the interest of protecting humans.
So I was disheartened to read about a recent study by the ASPCA
(The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) that found only 19 percent of law enforcement officers surveyed report they’ve received training in handling crimes against animals. Not just that, while nearly one-third of Americans say they’ve witnessed animal cruelty firsthand, police say they rarely see it. The study also revealed that while nearly all law enforcement officers feel they should play a role in enforcing animal cruelty law, only 41 percent say they know the relevant laws in their area and just 30 percent say they know the penalties.
In short, awareness of animal cruelty is here but not the frontline know-how to stop it. With so much budget pressure on municipalities around the country, I’m pessimistic about these concerns rising to the top of priority lists. But I’m glad to see the ASPCA shed light on this gaping hole in the effort to fight animal cruelty.